Jason Brennan’s provocative new book, Against Democracy, divides people into three groups based on their orientation to politics: “Hobbits,” who are apathetic and ignorant; “Hooligans,” who are engaged but hopelessly biased, convinced that fans of other political teams are “stupid, evil, selfish, or at best, deeply misguided”; and “Vulcans,” who “think scientifically and rationally about politics” and whose “opinions are strongly grounded in social science and philosophy.”
Washington Post columnist Neil Irwin celebrates, kind of, the rise of independent experts over elected politicians. It’s happening all over the world, he writes. In the United States, an Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) will decide how to keep Obamacare spending under control, and a global warming policy empire is being stick-built, one rulemaking at a time, by the EPA. Congress is awol. Irwin’s chief example, predictably, is the rise of central banks, here and in Europe, as central decision-makers in the 2008 crisis and ever since. Irwin isn’t terribly fond of the trend, but despairs of political institutions and their ability to act. “When the world is on the brink,” he concludes, “decisive problem-solving trumps the niceties of democratic process. I won’t like it much—but I’ll take it.”
Let the record reflect that I, too, prefer expert interventions—however dubious—to global annihilation. Beyond that, though, I’m rather more skeptical of the experts’ record. I’m not at all sure Irwin has the analysis right, and I suspect that his expert heroes may be in for a crash landing.